Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Four Tools for Revising Your First Chapter by Crystal Collier


Welcome Crystal Collier here today to share her new book and some writing tips!

In 1771, Alexia had everything: the man of her dreams, reconciliation with her father, even a child on the way. But she was never meant to stay. It broke her heart, but Alexia heeded destiny and traveled five hundred years back to stop the Soulless from becoming.

In the thirteenth century, the Holy Roman Church has ordered the Knights Templar to exterminate the Passionate, her bloodline. As Alexia fights this new threat—along with an unfathomable evil and her own heart—the Soulless genesis nears. But none of her hard-won battles may matter if she dies in childbirth before completing her mission.

Can Alexia escape her own clock?

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4 Tools for Revising Your First Chapter

Thank you Misha for having me here today!

We all struggle with beginnings. Let's face it. You've got an epic story, but that first sentence is the toughest to get on the page.

My advice?

Skip it.

That's right jump over that first sentence and just write.

What?!? Here's the deal. It's almost guaranteed you will come back and restructure your beginning. Hovering over the first sentence is like worrying what flavor of icing you want before deciding the flavor of the cake.

When you come back to revise, start as late into the story as possible. No traveling to the place where the story starts. No sitting and pondering the upcoming trouble. As a writer, it's your responsibility to drop us into a boiling vat, right from the get go. (Meaning trouble--not necessarily climactic action.) What inciting incident sets the characters on a journey? Start us there.

So if you're at the point where you're ready to revise and make your beginning kick trash, where do you start? Good editing is about asking good questions. Here are some aspects you should question about your beginning:

(Disclaimer: I will be using examples from my books, not because I hold myself as an authority, but because this is a blog tour for my new release. Now BUY MY BOOKS. *winks*)

The first sentence: We appropriately put weight on this one line, but it doesn't have to be a mind-blowing literary masterpiece. What it does need to accomplish is AT LEAST two of these things:
  • Introduce a question or problem.
  • Show us the viewpoint character. (Including the perspective of the story--1st person, 3rd person, etc.)
  • Establish the mood.
  • Give us a snatch of the setting.
Example: (MOONLESS) Alexia was reasonably confident that exiting the carriage was the equivalent of stepping into Hell. (Character, mood, setting, and problem.)

The first paragraph: By the end of this paragraph (or two), your reader MUST be asking a question. If you've done your job right, the reader will be immersed in drama, care about your character, and be anxious for the next line.

Example: (SOULLESS) Alexia’s eyes snapped open, heart thundering. Well, she wasn’t dead. Yet.
The reader might wonder, "Why does she think she's going to die?"

The first page: By the end of the first 250 words, the reader needs to be grounded with the basics:
  • Who--is this character? (Name, gender, age, occupation, ethnicity or culture, orphan or surrounded by family/friends.)
  • Where? Physical location, time, etc.
  • What--is the problem?
  • Why--should I care? (Did you hook the reader on this character?)
  • and How--is the character going to face/overcome this problem?
If using an "all's-well" opening (where we KNOW life is good and it's going to be disrupted), there had better be a hint of trouble either foreshadowed or mentioned.

The first chapter: At this point, we all hope to have a bear trap clamped around the readers ankle. To do this, we need 1. a character they want to root for, or 2. a problem they need to solve, or 3. a metaphorical rug that got ripped out from under their feet. (Preferably, all three.)

1. This making us like the character, how does that work? Blake Snyder calls this the "save the cat" moment. The character has been placed in a circumstance where they have to show their inner convictions. In the first chapter of Soulless, Bellezza shows up to murder Alexia. Yay. Not only does Alexia escape her murderess by using her ability to freeze time, but faces Bellezza to interrogate her. (All while suffering through a blinding migraine caused by using her gift.) We see that she is angry and injured, but a person who confronts her fears rather than running away. There's something to root for.

Source
2. A problem that needs solving. We are all creatures of comfort. If there's a problem, it creates discomfort in the reader's mind, and a need for resolution. In the first chapter of TIMELESS, Alexia is battling the Knights Templar...eight months pregnant. (Yup. There's the problem.) They have hunted her and her companions from one place to another...all while facing the inevitable deadline of birth. Which could happen on the battlefield. Get to solving, Alexia!

3. The rug ripped out from under your feet. This is that moment, that last line or thought that makes you go, "Brrr?" The first chapter of Moonless ends with a mystery. A man straight out of Alexia's nightmares has appeared at a social gathering--the man she saw in her most recent dream standing over her dead host. Who here has met someone face to face who first appeared in their dreams?

In the end, formulating the perfect beginning is just about hooking your readers. Do that, and you've got it made.

What is your favorite/least favorite story convention for hooking readers?

Crystal Collier is an eclectic author who pens clean fantasy/sci-fi, historical, and romance stories with the occasional touch of humor, horror, or inspiration. She practices her brother-induced ninja skills while teaching children or madly typing about fantastic and impossible creatures. She has lived from coast to coast and now calls Florida home with her creative husband, four littles, and “friend” (a.k.a. the zombie locked in her closet). Secretly, she dreams of world domination and a bottomless supply of cheese.

Find her and her books online HERE.


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18 comments:

Nicola said...

Great tips for the opening of a novel. Thanks Crystal and many congratulations!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Save the Cat is such a great book.
By my second book, I got the hang of the first line. And I like simple, one-line openings. They work best for me.

Crystal Collier said...

Thank you, Nicola!

Alex, everyone has their voice and their niche, eh? I like simple first lines too--as long as they have a hook.

Nick Wilford said...

I like something unusual or quirky in the first line that intrigues the reader. But yeah, it has to have a problem. It's like the title for me - one of the last things I come up with!

Hart Johnson said...

Very nice summary of the things a first chapter needs! I definitely need to be more deliberate about all this, but I love how you have coming back to it later. I think that's a good plan. I probably need to write it to start--just my brain. But to come back with the checklist after the rest of the story is done is good.

Crystal Collier said...

Nick, YES! Sometimes the most important aspects are the last to be developed.

Hart, I totally get that. I have this thing where I have to get my first chapter just right before I can move on to the rest of the book. As long as that aspect is solid, I'm free to make a mess of the rest. That chapter is proof I'll get it right eventually.

M.J. Fifield said...

I like the advice of jumping right over that first sentence and just writing. I find I have to do that more often than not. That first line will usually come to me while I'm writing the middle of the story.

I like simple first sentences, too—but, like you said, with a hook.

Elizabeth Seckman said...

Wonderful advice, Crystal! A must share.

Crystal Collier said...

M.J., it's the only way to go, right? I mean, how many times have you stared about a blank page because you didn't have the exact right words to begin with?

Elizabeth! Thank you. I don't give advice often, but my goodness, I wrote 12 writing tips posts for this tour. TWELVE. I didn't even know I had that much insight in me.

J Q Rose said...

Excellent tips on writing the first line. And yes, how many times did I go back and re-do the first line before submitting for publication. Just get the words down first. Best wishes on your new release!
JQ Rose

The Cynical Sailor said...

Great tips! I was paralyzed for the longest time on the first chapter of my novel. It took quite a while before I could accept the fact that it would all probably change anyway and dive in and keep on writing, knowing I could go back and worry about chapter 1 later.

Crystal Collier said...

JQ, thank you. We all have to go through that, eh?

Crystal Collier said...

It's the only way to get over that hump. If I could tell every new writer to just jump to chapter two, I would.

Christine Rains said...

Fantastic tips! That first page is so important. I a lot of time revising it to get it just right.

LD Masterson said...

Nicely laid out, Crystal. It's good to see something we sort of know spelled out in easy to follow steps.

(Hi Misha)

Olga Godim said...

Wonderful tips. Thank you, Crystal.

Crystal Collier said...

Me too, Christine!

Linda, that's the goal. It can definitely be overwhelming trying to keep all that straight, eh?

Olga, thank you!

Launna said...

Misha, it is good to be back blogging... I had a great deal of things to handle and writing was just a little too much for me... however; I really missed it and interacting with the blogging world. I hope you are doing well xox